Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lingering Items--Ravens Edition

Cleveland Browns’ head coach Romeo Crennel announced Wednesday that Derek Anderson would remain the starting quarterback. If you expected anything different, then you haven’t been paying close attention. Crennel has become the George Costanza of the NFL and he’s destined for a similar fate, unemployment, unless he too adheres to the one piece of advice that ever proved successful for George: make a decision and then do the opposite.

Crennel has been wrong about virtually everything this season. Who to start, when to kick a field goal, when to take a time out. In fact, it would be hard to find a decision this season that has gone right for him. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, he’s apparently going to continue to listen to the little man inside him, not realizing as George once did, that his little man is an idiot.

Crennel’s rationale to stick with Anderson makes a certain amount of sense if you remove context. Anderson had a great season last year by any measure. He had some alarming bouts of inconsistency and didn’t finish strong, all of which concerned a lot of folks, but the overall results for him personally and the team generally were good. Thus, you don’t abandon that kind of potential. A fair argument, too, can be made for the notion that as the starter, Anderson, like any player, should be given the chance to work his way out of a slump.

In context, you begin to visualize the first three games of the season and wonder why any coach would continue to push that Anderson rock up the same hill only to have it flatten him a few minutes later. The St. Louis Rams have benched Marc Bulger in favor of Trent Green in order to give his winless team a spark. Bulger is far more entrenched and has a far bigger contract than Anderson and yet Rams’ head coach Scott Linehan can understand perfectly the results he’s seen from Bulger thus far and knows a change is needed. And that’s with a quarterback that has almost twice the rating as Anderson at the moment.

But Crennel’s dogged insistence on staying the course is more than keeping with the one trait that continues to fail him the most, abject stubbornness. Recall how steadfast Crennel stood behind Maurice Carthon as offensive coordinator until general manager Phil Savage finally stepped in and forced Carthon’s “resignation?” You can also see it in Crennel’s approach to defense. Despite lacking the linebacking talent to run a 3-4 defense, Crennel continues to march it out there week after week insisting that the only thing holding it back is the need to just work harder.

If Crennel’s decision not to go with Brady Quinn at this point is out of some misguided fear of creating a quarterback controversy or dividing the locker room, to that one can only ask either, who cares or how would that make a difference anyway? Professional athletes are great at wearing blinders and so too is this group. They continue to say the right things and continue to look on the sunny side of the street. But even this team, in its heart of hearts, knows that there are serious problems that extend well beyond the outcome of the Anderson/Quinn conundrum.

You get the sense, too, that maybe, just maybe, Crennel doesn’t much care for Quinn. Crennel’s quote after last week’s debacle against the Baltimore Ravens that “I think we’ll try to get the other guy ready, and we’ll see how it goes from there” suggests much even while saying little. Why, is Quinn simply “the other guy?” Does Crennel not know his name or is he just trying to emulate the vast interpersonal skills of his mentor, Bill Belichick, or the big daddy himself, Bill Parcells? If nothing else, it showed an amazing lack of respect by the supposed leader of the team to not even refer to one of its marquee players by name.


Not that Crennel naming Anderson as a starter was much of a surprise, but who’s playing quarterback on Sunday, while not irrelevant, is only one of several relevant concerns. Quinn can be more mobile, more decisive, more accurate and it won’t make much of a difference if, for example, the Browns keep marching Syndric Steptoe out there as the only other viable alternative at wide receiver.

More to the point, it isn’t going to matter much who the receivers are until the Browns prove to an opponent that they have a viable running game. One of the great truisms in football is that establishing a run game helps set up the passing game. Thus has nearly offensive coordinator who’s ever donned a set of headphones tried to establishing the running game irrespective of who he has taking the hand off.

The Browns have a pretty decent running back in Jamal Lewis and yet haven’t run very effectively in any of the three games. Some fault lies with an offensive line that hasn’t played particularly well. Mostly, though, it’s been because the Browns have been behind. But there also seems like a deliberate plan by offensive coordinator Rod Chudzinski to zag when the other team is expecting a zig. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, except that right now zagging, which means passing, is even less effective.

Consider, for example, the one case that seems to have particularly caught the eye of Lewis when he complained earlier this week about the game plan. In the Ravens game, the Browns actually had the lead heading into the third quarter and got the ball first. In a situation tailor made for establishing the run and, hence, taking control of the game, Chudzinski instead opted to throw, risking turnovers for the potential of a quick score that would put more pressure on Ravens’ rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

In the first series, the Browns started on their own 10-yard line following the obligatory block-in-the-back penalty on the kick return. They went pass, pass and pass, with that third one being intercepted by Chris McAlister. The Ravens turned that into a touchdown and the lead.

On the next series, which started at the Browns’ 18-yard line, Chudzinski called for a run, which went for four yards, and then another pass, which was intercepted by Ed Reed for a touchdown. Now the Ravens had an insurmountable lead. The Browns responded in kind and out of necessity by running only twice more.

The whole scenario points out, generally, that the problems with this team are at virtually every level. The head coach is overmatched, the offensive coordinator is outsmarting himself and the defensive coordinator is a rookie forced to adhere to a strategy without the talent to support it. The players, with very few exceptions, are performing below expectations. In the end you get what you have, a team that is 0-3 and on the cusp of having to play out the string only a quarter into the season.


This week’s question to ponder as the Browns travel to as contrived of a nickname as exists for an opposing venue, the “Jungle”: Given Crennel’s coaching lineage, do you think Belichick would start Anderson over Quinn this week?

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